Freedom is such a precious concept that a piece of its etymological makeup means to “hold dear.” While it is not a tangible commodity, the desire to obtain it is universal. But shackles come in all forms – mental, emotional, financial, political – so none of us is truly free. And even though human slavery has been illegal in the U.S. for more than 150 years, its ghosts haunt us still.
As police and vigilante killings of unarmed Black people continue to rock our world, Black parents (and non-Black parents raising Black children) in the U.S. have spoken and written about fearing for their children’s lives. Still, always, there is hope. And hope for my family this year came in the form of a new book, “Parenting for Liberation: A Guide for Raising Black Children,” by Trina Greene Brown (published by Feminist Press). Greene Brown is an activist and mother of two. The book is just one iteration of her liberation work. She launched Parenting for Liberation as a virtual platform in 2016, featuring blogs and podcasts that aim to inspire, connect and uplift parents of Black children.
The book is divided into three sections – (Re)connection to Self, (Re)connection to Our Children and (Re)connection to Community. It melds stories from parents and activists with Greene Brown’s stories of recognizing her own fear-based parenting and her personal and community efforts to overcome it. The guide also includes practical exercises, a robust glossary and a sample agenda for creating your own parent/child workshops.
Let’s start off with a definition. What is liberated parenting?
The word liberation, even for me, evolves and grows over time because now that my son is becoming a teenager, liberation is looking very different. He was 6, 7, 8 when I was writing this book, but now he’s challenging me in a different way.
I think it’s about our ability to allow our children to be free, and that definition of what freedom looks like for them is going to have to come from them. We can’t define freedom for them. But we can create the environment for them to feel free. Our part is to create safe environments where they can express themselves fully, where they can be self-defining and self-determining. So, in order for me to raise a liberated child, I have to be liberated myself, right? So, how do I freely express myself? How do I heal from things that may have caused me trauma? And then, as I’m on that journey of healing, how am I creating spaces for myself to be free – free from judgment, free from stereotypes, free from self-doubt, free from negative self-talk.
How did ideals around liberation fit into your childhood and help shape who you are today?
I was born and raised in South Los Angeles. I still like to call it South Central L.A. I’m an ’80s baby, so that means I grew up in the time of the so-called war on drugs. War on Black communities and families is what it became. My family was definitely impacted by that.
Now, the country has an opioid problem, and it’s called an epidemic and the focus is on rehabilitation, not incarceration. I just started noticing early on that the solutions that were being provided were not to keep our families together but to tear families apart. My father was an addict in and out of rehab, but even as a child, I saw him as having an illness. And despite everything he went through, he still believed in Black empowerment. He raised me to ask questions. My mother raised six kids and went back to school while I was in elementary and junior high. She put in me a commitment to education and lifelong learning.
For college, I went to UCLA and studied communications and African American studies because I was really curious about messaging and the media and how it impacts people.
You were involved in activism around equality while in college and beyond. How did your activism change when you became a parent?
I was working at a domestic violence organization when I became pregnant, and I really believed in the work I was doing with young women. Then, I got pregnant and I found out I was having a boy. I’ve evolved and grown in my own understanding of gender, but at the time, I was in a very gender-binary thinking mindset. And all the work that I was doing was about women’s rights. It automatically put boys and men as the perpetrators, and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, I’m carrying a potential perpetrator.” In addition to this narrative, at the time that I had my son, the heightened visibility of violence against Black bodies was everywhere – on television, on the news. I was raising him early on in the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, right at the hands of all this violence and seeing not only Black men and women being murdered, but seeing Black children, too.
It started to make me be more afraid for my son. I started to parent from a place of fear. I was afraid he would be a victim. I was afraid that he could be the next perpetrator. I wanted to make sure that he knew about consent. Like as a 2-year-old.
I read in the book that you were afraid to let your son go outside to play with friends.
Little by little, I’ve been able to release my fears. But I guess I backslide sometimes. I don’t get it right every time. One of the messages of the book is about how do we account for and acknowledge when we’re wrong? How do we apologize to our children? That’s the beauty of liberation. We can practice it.
The Audre Lorde quote that I often quote is around this idea that for Black children to survive, they must have the ability to love and resist. I had the resistance down pat. My mom had the resistance down pat. But how do we get the love and the resistance together? To me, that is what creates the possibility of liberation. That we love our children so much that we will resist anything that comes up … but we also want them to know that they are loved so much. We need to shower them with so much love.
Who else would you say needs to read this book?
I would say anyone who is impacting or influencing the lives of Black children – teachers, social workers, Children and Family Services, doctors, the bus driver …
For more, visit https://parentingforliberation.org.